A woman's body has been found on the Yorkshire Moors, and all evidence points to her murder, but the crime goes unsolved even though the world famous detective Hercules Poirot (Peter Ustinov) is called in to investigate. While he is there he is asked to look in to another case, of a large diamond that was supposed to be insured until it was discovered the gem was no diamond at all, but paste. The man behind this is Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakely) so Poirot ventures out to the Adriatic to meet with him and find out what's up...
This was the third in the series of Poirot movies - the Miss Marple adaptation The Mirror Crack'd is sometimes linked in with these - after the megahit Murder on the Orient Express and less successful but still profitable Death on the Nile, and this time the Agatha Christie purists were less pleased at the treatment their favourite author suffered at the hands of the filmmakers. This was a loose adaptation, and for the first half at least screenwriter Anthony Shaffer, whose best known works for the movies were The Wicker Man and Sleuth, preferred to concentrate on arch humour rather than an atmosphere of mystery.
It was almost as if nobody could take this seriously, so they opted to behave as if it were all a big lark which none of the audience would be wise to watch on the level that Christie would have wanted, more like Murder by Death than any proper whodunnit. For some viewers, this is the source of delight, seeing these talented thesps let their hair down and trade witty barbs, leaving the actual murder verging on an afterthought as long as the scenery was attractive, but for others it was frustrating. Why should we be interested in the identity of the murderer when it was only Poirot who could barely rouse himself to look into it with any conviction?
Actually, while this took Christie as the source of fun, some of Shaffer's lines did indeed raise the laughs they were intended to, and if you wanted a mindless romp to while away a lazy afternoon, Evil Under the Sun was the movie for you. The cast was certainly impressive even if a fair few had their better days somewhere behind them, and Ustinov obviously relished the opportunity to play the loveable know-it-all once again, the role fit him like a glove after all. Once he reached the island where all the trouble went down, the stars paraded across the screen in circumstances befitting their stature, most glammed up to the nines in period costume and oh so elegant when they were not being bitchy.
If it's easy to spot who the victim will be, the film undoubtedly made us wait for their demise as for a while it seems as if they've forgotten this is meant to be a murder mystery and were enjoying themselves too much to bother with such trifles as plot. The main bone of contention for those assembled in the resort is the arrival of stage siren Arlena Marshall (Diana Rigg), who they all have a grudge against, but have any of them taken enough umbrage to actually bump her off? Among those trying not to look suspicious were James Mason and Sylvia Miles who wanted her for their show, Denis Quilley who is married to her and seeing her go off with another man (Nicholas Clay), whose mousy wife (Jane Birkin) is less than pleased, and Roddy McDowall as Roddy McDowall. In truth the culprit was fairly obvious, but in a way that would at least offer the audience the sense of self-congratulation that they had spotted them. The music was retooled Cole Porter.